Life After the Tele Summit ~ And Before the Symposium!
At the end of the Tele Summit, just over two weeks from the date of this writing, artist and Minnasotan Helen Michaels responded to my FaceBook group request to share key learnings. After a number of beautiful, wise and intelligent insights, Helen concluded, “All speakers were so generous, informative and radiated the courage to follow their horses in how to partner with them…and I’d love to know how you are changed from the experience of creating it!”
At that moment, all I could think was, “Sleep. My reality has been constant deadline intensive work and sleep deprivation, really since Thanksgiving—and the biggest change I’m looking forward to is less stress, and more sleep!”
That wasn’t what I wanted to write, of course. But the reality of the 1-month release included many mundane, non-magical things. Coping with spotty internet that sometimes caused web page updates to scramble the site; creating content and web pages, newsletters, audio teasers that alone took between 2-4 hours for their 1-2 minutes each, and writing daily releases—so much of which is not highly inspiring or creative in the doing; coping with a computer that, sadly (because I love this computer, and because I don’t want to spend money on another), needs to be restarted several times a day; providing all the customer service and tech support while fitting in care for an injured horse who lives 65 miles away in a pasture with no other caretaker, as well as caring for the 9 other horses of my herd who deserve my attention and love, too; balancing domestic duties for my brother’s family—himself and twin 11-year-old boys who play different sports and for whom the anniversary of wife/mother’s death looms (April 12)…all this would end, I thought. No more weeks with 2-3 20-hour days accompanied by 12+ hour days 7 days a week….
That first week, there were things to catch up on. My small pickup had gotten a flat in the days before the Tele Summit began, and it was still sitting in front of the house, over four weeks later.
And then, you know, I walked the dogs, and I looked around.
The first thing I saw is that…nothing has changed.
I’m still in a place in which the work I do, who I am or see myself to be, is invisible. Trump is still president. A neighbor had the police come to my brother’s house. Apologetically, the cop told my brother he was called out because of my pickup with a flat (I was at the horses) and put a stamp on my windshield saying I had 48 hours to repair the tire or the pickup would be towed. Along with some time, I needed a bit of help (as the hood of the truck doesn’t open without one person pulling the lever in the truck while another lifts the hood—it is, after all, a 2001 Ford Ranger, my horse-hauling F-350 not much younger—many material things having gone the way of divorce a while back). The next morning, a Saturday, my brother left town for a work trip I hadn’t put on my calendar (aack!!—when he told me about it back in January, I was sure I’d be gone by now), and I knocked on neighbors’ doors, receiving no answer (again) as I sought to get my car tire pumped and the battery jumped so I could get the tire replaced and return…all before I had to take one of the boys—currently at the park after ignoring my calls for him to stop for a moment–to his baseball game at noon.
And with that, I was a single mom…for a week. Each day I went to bed exhausted, woke at 2:45am in a panic attack for all the things I hadn’t done, spending the next two hours doing that meditation and yoga in bed that I’d skipped during the day, just to calm my nervous system enough to sleep.
In an inefficient bleary state the next day, I’d get little done in the relatively few hours I had before kid care became the job again. I now know experientially–just a little bit, a taste, really– of how single parenting feels–with the acknowledgement that for me, it lasted only a week.
Remembering. Re-Membering my Life as Adventurer
While I enjoy cooking and a clean house, I never was the domestic sort—I love learning both in classrooms and out, travel, outdoor adventure and wildness, mountains and deserts and snow and rock and wildlife and horses. Schedules just aren’t my strong suite. And most of my life has been large, and magical, and nothing like it has been the past two years. I have climbed big rock walls and mountains, the Grand Teton after mountain biking all morning and dancing to bluegrass music all afternoon and night on the Idaho/Wyoming border with my world-traveling rock-climbing engineering boyfriend. I’ve ski-backpacked in those same mountains, telemarking next to a spring avalanche with my pack on, in the evenings watching “the avalanche channel”—so many avalanches in a high-walled valley–after dinner with my outdoor adventure, inorganic chemistry buddy, before diving into my bag under a tarp in a hole dug in the snow for the night.
While I’ve not yet skiied the Tetons after staying
in a building, I have, in those same mountains, done backcountry yurt trips.
I’ve also worked with clients at a guest ranch in Swan Valley, the sharp silhouette of those familiar mountains still visible beyond and above the gentler slopes that cup the valley through which the Snake River runs below Palisades Reservoir and Dam. The Tetons are only one locale for such trips. I’ve maintained lifelong relationships with these close loves of my life—from landscapes to animals to humans.
I’ve had years in which I spent more nights under the stars than under a ceiling. I train my Arabian and mustang herd in the herd, no tack, no level ground—not because I learned or heard about it from a book, but because I’ve been training this way since I was 13—along with processes from classical dressage, which I began learning in my preteen years and am still learning. Back then I kept it quiet—so many disapproving voices. Now I know if I hadn’t, perhaps I’d be famous. But I care about love, and adventure, and the richness of a deeply lived, intensely felt life. And fame, I always thought, brings human projections, expectations, and pressures—a heavy burden I actively eschewed in those young(er) adult decades.
In this decade of life, my 40s, I did something unexpected—I married—a man I met through my horses as he brought corporate leadership teams to us–a sophisticated and fun French-English Londonite I knew through his contracted work for three years, then dated for another two before marrying. When on our whirlwind honeymoon—squeezed between two of my new husband’s international work trips—in Paris, he actually bought two paintings by an impressionist painter I’d studied in my liberal arts college days. Paintings that had not been on the market since the painter sold them to a gallery that, within minutes of putting them in the window, sold to a man who decided to marry the woman who sold them, the gallery manager. He gave them back to her on their wedding day.
My now life-partner and I, it turned out, had walked into this Paris gallery just moments after these two paintings had again found their way into a gallery window. The gallery manager, amazed at the coincidence so many years later, sold the paintings to their second-ever owners—and the second man to give them to a woman he’d decided he’d move—if not mountains, then at least himself—to marry. Paintings that were in books about art. In my 20s, after my morning soccer game, I’d meet friends for brunch, then head to the bookstore and pull out books on Impressionism and read, learn, look at the pictures. Whole Sunday afternoons were spent this way. Now in my first months of partnership that was a commitment for life, when things arrived from England, I found that my partner was a bit of a collector, and other artists and paintings I’d studied in college would be a part of our Colorado mountain home. When, shortly after, we moved from one amazing home to an even grander mountain property, we’d found a home that combined Colorado mountain architecture with European touches. The faux venetian walls were soon adorned with French meadows full of poppies and English countrysides with beams of light. The world really can surprise you with its grace.
I gave the paintings back three years later when that beloved Brit found the Colorado Rockies too much for him after all. I gave those paintings, my mountain retreat home and equine facility, the new Subaru, and all the trappings back. 100%. I closed my business (the repercussion of joint tax returns) and the knowledge I’d soon have to rehome most if not all of a herd that is not my property, as humans label them, but my family. When I couldn’t find permanent new homes for the dogs, I had them fostered in two different states and lived at an old acquaintance’s home until I could find my own. I did this freely. My partner had come to me because he loved the freedom he felt with me. Now, I gave him his freedom when he asked. Even seeing what it would cost me. Quite possibly, everything.
I learned how it feels to build the dream of your life, but see it manifest differently because your partner’s dream grows, unbeknownst to you, different from what you’d once shared. I’ve forever wanted the mountains, and the land, but my dream of a small, simple-to-maintain home had not been my partner’s. I’d sought to find a middle ground of value systems, and when my partner refused to compromise, then to just enjoy the ride.
I’ve never been a therapist, and in saying that, I mean that I never resonated with that role–at least as it is shaped by insurance and the sense that we can be classified into pathologies, deemed abnormal, and “treated” back to normality. I am a writer, my training in projecting a world more real, and also more beautiful, more chaotic, more diverse, with more ways than one to cope with tragedy and hardship, with a less rule-bound worldview to celebrate than mainstream therapy offers. I wanted to be true to MY beliefs, even when–especially when–those beliefs led counter to the advice of those in my network of this work with horses who told me this was something I manifested and better thoughts would lead to better experiences. That, at the time, just deflated me, could knock me down for days, and made me feel nothing I could do would succeed because all my best efforts had lead to this; I created such sadness. Normally, I felt a bit like, well, just me, on a hero’s journey, and what I needed to hear was that I was up to the heroic task, that the world had prepared me for just this, that I could do it and I wasn’t invisible, or wrong; that I had support. The therapist’s efforts to help were just, well, not that.
No. I returned to what my heart knew was true. That the whole thing may have been destined to happen–it did feel that way–but that at this moment, from this vantage, my mission was to feel it, experience it, not to judge myself as the creator and be different emotionally through force of will.
To transform, I had to live this fully. Not control it, or will my experience to be different. I had to maintain faith in my belief in a fully lived story, and the power of story to transform. I could try to see things with appreciation, but that is an heroic journey when what one is feeling is intense pain–to say yes to the pain rather than to deny it, do battle with it, or to suppress it. And many interpret the idea of appreciation to mean you stop feeling the pain by some method or other, as if you could…and that advice was not helpful or healing or, to my writer’s heart, even correct.
And so, I did my best to stay open to the pain of dismantling, of bad timing for my own business so that the repercussions were big. Of this loss while still reeling from a series of tragic deaths (7 at the time, then 8 as my beloved horse Hizzy died just as I was about to move him in the first load of horses) and losses over the course of the 18 months before. Added to those deaths, I experienced the loss of love, of being cherished, of security, of a shared dream, shared plans, shared life, and all we’d manifested to date. Of being made the enemy when I still loved. The disorientation, the confusion of unaccountable cruelty from the one you love and committed to for life, the betrayal as he travels other countries and scouts near and far for distraction in other women, while you sacrifice everything. Of how one you loved could use your love, your sadness, and your confusion to manipulate you, other people, and situations.
I don’t tell this for sympathy. I say this because this is true. Archetypal. Because others will recognize this, if they have lived it too. And many have.
It’s an important experience, as much so as the lighter adventures of earlier decades. I do not believe we make things better by pretending the darkness doesn’t hurt. But I want this life, ALL of it. The best help we can offer others is to be with, and not judge or evaluate or fix.
What horses give is that seeing without judging, that being with, right where you are, without changing. And so, change happens. We human facilitators of equine work allow for the most powerful healing when we align ourselves with that truth. Our consciousness, our models, or our efforts to return normalcy are not what heal. It is the space in which we allow spirit to enter that heals. Horses, as powerful emotional-spiritual beings that provide a bridge to nature, serve us, heal us, from this point, this truth. Aligning our intentions with this radical acceptance, validating the other in their journey, allowing them to find their answers without a critical eye, and letting spirit do the real work, is where our greatest service comes; we are the witness, and Love–that true god–channels through our witnessing. Our work with a client is self-work as we learn how to deepen our acceptance and more fully open the doorway to light.
As those who release their dreams with another know, my process of dissolution didn’t just feel like, it was a literal process of dying–and I felt every moment of it, and prayed no one judged too harshly the bodily experience and behavior of one who stays open to all life offers. And that was a precarious balance, as the very social connection I needed to survive, also held the potential danger of isolating me if the person knew just how much I was experiencing–how my already strong intuition had opened to a world in which, through any conversation, I heard not only the voice of the person talking, but also a cacophony of voices of those no longer in physical form. And because of the dark place I was in, the opening to this world of spirit was not a light and life-enhancing one. I had to learn to sort the voices, hold multiple conversations simultaneously, and not sound crazy. I had to learn not to listen to some voices, or allow their guidance–had to learn that while it’s amazing to hear Spirit, not all spirits are amazing to hear. It was an opening to a world I’d only experienced in a much more metaphorical, conceptual and peace-filled way till then. I didn’t have a community of like-experienced people to help me sort it out. I had to learn on my own, create my own tools of discernment, clearing, boundary-setting and communicating.
There were times I could see nothing, feel nothing but immense physical pain from so much loss, even as I was able to communicate with the lost ones–as they were returned to me through this underworld journey.
In the meantime, my new corporate job had to happen, and as I was new and had been given the position provisionally, I had to do well. As an employee in a home office, I learned how to learn remotely while simultaneously allowing my body to grieve, tears to flow endlessly. My mind didn’t shut down, but just also learned, and worked on technical writing and web development projects for the international high tech engineering company that was a life-saving gift, if not my normal choice of work. I was learning something our culture simply does not teach–how to be functional AND emotionally open–and not pick and choose the emotions I was open to. As Linda Kohanov teaches as the basis of her work with horses, even overwhelming emotion is information. I had to, for a while, let my sense of control go; let go of belief that I could, and certainly should, pick and choose my emotions. Instead, the message I was receiving was that I had to allow what came, and have faith that what came was what was needed to heal. All I had to do was experience it with presence, not shut down, not “use my head.”
In that time, the hardest people to be around were people often found in the healing arts–or particular models of healing arts, such has norming styles of therapy or coaching, or those who believed in controlling and choosing your emotions–who also seemed to have a remarkable lack compassion and certainly empathy. The easiest, most healing people to be around were old friends who knew who I was and didn’t judge or evaluate my mental or emotional state; in fact, took little note of it when it did not seem “normal.” And my one therapist friend who is, truly, what a therapist should be, and what the best sort of friend is.
It was a time of great courage and faith, of being held by that which we cannot see. It was metanoia that leads to individuation, to use Jung’s terms that I had learned before–and it was my Jungian studies that provided the blueprint that made sense in this part of the ride. I was learning the Red Book, Jung’s own metanoia–my version.
And then, miraculously and as I was making an offer on a home I could just barely afford on the basin-side of the basin-and-range landscape that is the Wasatch front, I found instead a mountain place I could afford (to rent)—a 5-acre, 2-barn and one very old modular home dream place in the mountains 1 hour north of my favorite outdoorsy, surprisingly liberal city, Salt Lake City—the hidden gem and my favorite large(ish) city in the States. I pulled my offer on the flatland property before the owners could accept (they had a previous offer they had to notify first, lucky for me).
I moved, I lived in wonder at where I’d landed. Right on the border of Eden and Liberty, Utah. The views. The community. The land.
I vowed never to move again.
I began developing my vision, working as I do with the horses in a “constellations-like” way, a plan that would allow me to purchase the property I was renting and add my footprint to this place where many people had pastures and wanted horses, but didn’t want the responsibility of ownership. I hired a lawyer who specializes in nonprofits and social-entrepreneurship (coincidentally and unbeknownst to me at the time, was also the lawyer who helped EAGALA form and grow and has since been my lawyer for the Collective), I drafted a proposal for landowners of my rented property and scheduled a meeting with them. I began to see, as I talked to more and more people, a valley filling with horses that were part of a networked, community-based equine rescue and series of community equine-guided programs…just as had begun to manifest in Colorado before the vision was cut short. I couldn’t believe the gift being offered.
But, the horses kept showing in the constellations…a but. There was an alternative. A higher soul calling that would soon be asked…then was, being asked of me.
I said no. Second-highest calling, that’s good enough. The other was simply too much to ask, and too crazy. And would never work.
But the constellations didn’t stop showing up, and as I lived with the horses, I couldn’t stop seeing it. And by now, I’d already learned how “strong” I could be simply by moving into something too devastating to my adventure-loving spirit to imagine. And moving through by letting go of any moment but the present one and making the best moment of that present experience expand in my consciousness till it was enough. Let that expand and hold my attention like a single star in a black night. And then, always, I was gifted new life. So I knew it wasn’t up to me to do everything. All I had to do, really, was say “yes.” Then keep saying “yes,” and taking the physical steps required, to follow the guidance which, I now knew, was completely illogical from a particular point in a situation, but which always got me through. Yes to spirit, no–quite often–to people, including myself, my sense of what recovery from divorce should look like.
After 8 blissful months of home-rebuilding that felt like homecoming, I quit my job, released the rented property, moved everything back into storage, and moved into my estranged brother’s guest room in my least favorite place in America—Dallas, Texas, while my sister-in-law fought for her life on hospice for the fourth time in a decade of living with lupus.
The True Adventure ~ Dive & Endure–with Presence
Today, we’re 16 months into this arrangement, just under a year from my sister-in-law’s passing. The very day my brother returned from his work trip, I succumbed to the flu that had been trying to find its way in…
Some things have stood out to me, often, through this two weeks since the tele summit, and really through this whole 16 months in a suburb just north of Dallas, after all that life you’ve been offered a (longish) glimpse of.
This morning a neighbor came up behind with her dog as I clipped leashes on the Elkhounds, walked her dog with me for the first time ever. Then she began to warn me that Animal Control had been driving the neighborhood and would ticket me if they catch me out walking my dogs without their leashes. No warning, she said. Ticket on sight.
And so now I know there’s a city leash law. The neighbor also communicated through the indirect southern way, that by letting my dogs walk next to me and chase the occasional squirrel when no one is near, I have brought upon the neighborhood this punitive surveillance, or so she believes. This part, while untrue, is a familiar-from-childhood accepted mode of persuasion here. To get me to do what she thinks is best for me. This is southern comfort. I gather from the conversation following the “warning” from the neighbor, and another who stopped her car as she was driving by, that my dogs and I are, in their eyes or at least what they want me to believe, the reason for this anonymous complaint that dogs are afoot without leashes, for the Animal Control presence in the neighborhood park and streets.
So…what did I return to when the tele summit ended? I returned, again, to the daily trauma of living in community with humans who are not my tribe—to how SMALL life is, how constrained, in such a culture of family values and upper-middle-class enculcated fear.
Koelle, in the experiential part of her tele summit talk, had asked me to see all the messages society gives us of how we’re not enough. But what really stands out to me is how small we ask and expect each other to make ourselves and our lives. Not everywhere, but in many places.
Why do we ask this of each other? I have some thoughts. And Gabor Mate, in the short summary of what he calls the “myth of normal” below, articulates it so well. Before the neighbor and I parted ways, she explained in a reserved-for-children voice, why it made sense to “crack down” on all the dog owners who are releasing their dogs to catch Frisbees or to walk next to them. “Did you hear about the child who was bitten? It was just recently, in February.”
Ah, the real reason for the crackdown. Was the dog unleashed? Were there circumstances that might make sense of the situation? Was the child really hurt? I don’t know. Even asking these questions seems strange, as their answer seems implied. But the truth is, in this community, mountains are made out of mole hills daily, and so such clarifications truly do lead to a different picture from the one being painted, often. In the myth of normal, we aren’t accepted for going through something, we are expected to shut that s— down.
The problem is, more and more things require the shut-down. That is a never ending slippery slope.
It is often on my mind, why I am here, in this suburban experience. I mean, beyond the obvious as a source of support for my brother’s family. I see this experience as a sort of study. And what I’ve learned from this anthropological study living amongst natives in this suburban American community, is about how many in our culture see the world as a place of inherent evil, danger, threat–a place that requires rules and rule followers to be survivable. Here, in the flatlands of an upper-middle-class neighborhood where the kids leave their scooters, basketballs, soccer balls, and baseball gloves at the park because it’s easier to have them there already for the next day of play rather than to cart them home and back, death lurks in untethered family pets, and calling the police on your neighbor is the way to address what I would consider a simple fix, rather than knocking on a door to ask if your neighbor might need some help getting that flat tire fixed. I mean, I chat with all these neighbors…we’re not strangers here.
Those same kids who leave their stuff in the parks, who are too precious to allow our dogs off leashes, also watch violent movies, see rape and murder as, not just the beginning of an interesting storyline, but the only interesting story to view. Kids who listen to and play video games where the landscapes are destroyed versions of real places and the game is to kill. That’s entertainment, folks.
Since November 2016, this is what we’ve all learned. So many enclaves in the U.S. and elsewhere are defined by fear and blame…a culture still swimming in the effects of generations of unresolved trauma, locked-in overwhelm. Like it or not, we’ve all come to learn, this just is.
I’ve said a few times that we live in a culture of trauma. Many people live as if the world is a threat, as if we all need to hunker down in our homes, and largely stay out of bodily experience because it is just so miserable. And they don’t know it; they consider this way of life responsible, normal. It’s what they teach their kids, what they enforce on each other. While they, we, allow our government to protect us by wreaking devastation in countries far away, for our safety. Many pretend that they are living in as much danger as those we bomb elsewhere.
No one living in larger society really escapes this. For much of my adult life, I’ve managed to live on the borderlands, in nature-loving communities of people who, like me, want something more…or less, or different.
And so this has been a rude awakening—as we’ve all had versions of such awakening in recent months. Back to that experiential part of Koelle’s talk, when I explored what my body was saying, I felt fully the profound cost of living like the average, upper-middle-class American. I felt desperation, pain.
When I feel into it, the desperation my body communicates is hardly bearable and bubbles into consciousness as near panic, and cannot be eased for literally days. It’s hard to keep contained enough so that I can stay. And if I process it, well, that’s a 25-hour-a-day job. I do what I can, but I have other things to do, too; so there’s always more.
This is not because of some past trauma…well, yes. But the past trauma is no more than the present one. All the magic I’ve found in my adult life, gone. Trapped as my teen self felt trapped in a mundane existence I was being conditioned to aspire to.
What We’re Here For
So here’s the point. Here’s my answer of what has changed, for me.
If we are to be part of the human awakening, it will begin, for many, not with wonder, but with pain. Returning to our own feeling, sensing body, and feeling into the extreme strain we live in to make ourselves small, is not first and foremost a pleasant experience. For us and probably to a greater degree, for our clients, getting back into our senses, back into our body, may be a first step, but it may not be an easy or pretty—or quick—step. To feel again, we have to feel what we’ve done to hold ourselves to a cultural norm that is really a held trauma, to perform in that space.
Jim Corbett reminds us of this in his extraordinary book Goatwalking, “The first lesson is where everyone starts: despair that clears the way. The Buddhists call it ‘the First Truth,’ universal suffering.”
We don’t get through suffering by changing others. And we don’t change ourselves. We get through by going where it is hardest and closest—by allowing ourselves to be changed, working on ourselves, not by acting, but by being, within our family and intimate relationships. We need a good, healthy relationship with the underworld experience–and faith that it happens, not just because the world is cruel, but because it IS the pathway to light. We need to be able to refrain from judging or guarding in response to those closest when they judge, dismiss, or honor only our performance. This is a charade of illusion–conditional love. And the conditions we usually cannot talk about, or name, lest we be seen as the judgers of the way of life of those we speak to.
If people aren’t ready to do it differently, asking them to see what they are doing is mutiny. Change–the kind we are being asked to facilitate, isn’t something we can do.
And it seems to me, for our clients, we do not hold the keys, as I said before. We hold space.
To hold space, we can cultivate radical nonjudgment of ourselves, and see others through the lens of love and compassion beyond our conditioning of right and wrong, of normal, of healthy. Go through the dark…hold space for yourself. Hold nonjudgment. Hold nonjudgment for others. Love what the soft animal of your body loves, as Mary Oliver says. And very importantly, allow others to love what their body loves. And celebrate that.
What Has Changed: A Return
If you want change, or even to stay on the path you’ve been on, if you believe in it, you have to do the dive into what is close, difficult, and that you’ve sidestepped all your life. And don’t do it as a battle; go in softly, slowly, with the most vulnerable part of yourself held in such a way that it is not re-wounded by the journey. Hear your inner judgments, and don’t judge them. Breathe through them. Don’t banish them. Let them be. So they can go when they are ready. And love them, smile at them. They are your ancestors, forgiven, loved, by you, into resurrection.
Don’t tell others what to do. Don’t listen to others who are telling you what to do. Forgive as they speak to you. They do not understand you are not interested in being part of a group trauma anymore–not interested in being a functional cog in that collective wheel, anymore. Notice those who support without advice, and bask in the moment of relief these people are, from other people’s discomfort with your situation.
Don’t handle it perfectly, because if your feeling it, you can’t also be perfect–offering conditioned politeness–in your revivifying. Those who come back from death sputter and jolt into life.
Be real. And apologize later if you need to, but let the pain in and do your best without changing it. Dive in. Do it with presence. Allow it to break you open. Don’t know the answers, don’t know at all.
Then, allow others to be broken in front of you, without fixing them. Your power is in your presence—your being present with them in their pain—not in your version of what to do or how to feel. Let the horses be the amplifiers, the instigators, the catalysts of another’s jolting, sputtering into life. Be with the people who work with your four-legged colleagues, as their loving witness, the one of their own species who holds faith that this new life will not kill them, the one who validates the horses’ healing. Let the light in. And appreciate.
This is what I’ve learned. A return to that wildness, that directness, that richness, that has been my life.
Thanks for asking.